Dylan Ryu

09.20 2016 INTERVIEW DATE

History by Dylan, Vintage Craft Artist

Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

Founder of History by Dylan, Dylan Ryu creates one-of-a kind bags by using vintage decorations to craft and personalize aged designer bags. While her bags are sold at luxury select shops such as the 10 Corso Como or Boon the Shop, they are also praised for its artistry and showcased in galleries or featured exhibitions as well. In 2015, she moved her studio and home to an old mansion near Namsan from Cheongdam-dong, where she had long been dwelling. As a vintage craft artist, she crosses the boundaries of commercial and noncommercial fields and just like herself, the vintage objects and furnitures of different ages seamlessly blend with each other inside her nest. Here we trace back the time of Dylan’s home and belongings as she unwraps her story.

Hyemin Kwon

Can you take us to the start of History by Dylan?

I accidently spilled wine on the Dior clutch my mom had handed down to me and sadly the stain wouldn’t come off. So to cover it up, I stitched some hand-dyed vintage lace and tape over it and as I carried it around people started to ask where I got it. I was encouraged to do more re-touches to my other bags and gradually began doing it seriously. Many think that I only handle brand-name bags because my bags are sold at a limited number of select shops but it’s more about bringing new life to the aged bags that are no longer in use, regardless of their brands.

We were told there’s a unique way of delivering the story of each crafted bag.

I enclose a letter called ‘history letter’ in every bag and in the letter I write down sources of all the materials that’s been used to reform it. It’s like posting a little ‘letter of background’ from Dylan. It also implies that I’m not just simply selling but am at the same time sharing the history behind the materials that bring new life to the old bags. For instance, on a bag produced in the 21st century I decorate it with vintage silver letter buttons from the 1910s and gemstones from the 1930s which are all written down as memoirs and provided with the personalized bag.

The word ‘vintage’ is often used in our everyday lives but the definition is yet vague to many of us. Can you elaborate on the concept of vintage for us?

I often get asked with the same question and frankly it’s not easy to define it. Besides, there’s this confusion between vintage and antique. The word ‘vintage’ originated from wine and among its definitions, it means ‘old’ or ‘matured.’ And the word ‘antique’ is appropriate when describing things that are exactly 100 years old or older. So it’s not right to call something from the 1970s an antique. To be exact, as of 2016, products from 1916 and the years before are considered antique. If you have a product from the 1920s, it’s vintage now but as you age together it will one day become an antique.

 

What sparked your interest in vintage?

My mom never threw things away easily. When I was little she’d make me this beautiful patchwork dress out of a slightly torn bojagi (wrapping cloth). I loved it so much that I insisted on wearing it all week. And when I invited friends over for my birthday party my dad would make candles out of paraffin and crayons and hand them out as gifts. So basically my parents were the ones that taught me the joy of handcrafting and I think in my case, the joy had drifted towards addressing old and aged objects.

You have an impressive amount of vintage here.

When I lived in New York I’d comb through antique or flea markets every weekend and buy things up, mostly on impulse, whether or not they were useful or necessary. This working table is from a second-hand furniture store in Brooklyn. It used to be a 280 meter-long cutting board at a butcher’s and if you look closely it has blade scars all over it. And the wood is very thick and solid. Some people find it scary because these dark smudges on the top are indelible stains of blood.

Can you share us stories behind other things in this house as well?

The chair that I’m sitting on is an Eames chair produced in the 1970s and on the back there’s a sticker that reads IBM, which means that it used to be an office chair at IBM. The Mies van der Rohe’s daybed in the living room was produced in the 1960s. And before I purchased the daybed I had bought a printwork called ‘Architect’s Handkerchief’ by Claes Oldenburg. It’s an art piece inspired by Mies van der Rohe who had a handkerchief in his chest pocket of his suit at all times. Whenever I buy things, I never relate to where I’d be placing them so I often end up bringing things home that stand out a bit too much. But the daybed was purely upon a plan and I occasionally feel proud of the purchase, thinking that it really brings up a nice vibe to this house.(laugh)

Is there any vintage you found in Seoul?

When I was in my 20s I loved going to Hwanghak-dong that I’d find myself there every week. I used to buy a whole bunch of useless stuff that would range from a mortar, a wagon wheel to a giant fan even. Now they’re all stuffed at my parents’.(laugh) I was able to buy the vinyl soundtrack album of the movie <A Man and a Woman> at the Hoehyeon Underground Market after browsing through ebay intensely for the original album, which wasn’t successful. When the director Claude Lelouch visited Korea I rushed to get his autograph on the cover.

 

We notice that you don’t have any vintage displayed in your cabinet.

I prefer to use them daily rather than to leave them sitting on a cupboard. The least I can comprehend is people displaying and showing off bottles of hard liquor they barely drink inside those fancy cabinets. 

What inspired you to settle in this old mansion near Namsan?

About 10 years ago I was invited to a party held in one of the mansions here and I was really impressed at the unique layout of the space. I had never been fond of the typical format of the common Korean apartment buildings, where you can easily picture the whole house the moment you step in the front door. But this mansion, which used to be a hotel, had a long railway-like corridor where the rooms were lined up along it. Since then I had always kept this place in mind in case I moved out of Cheongdam-dong.

 

It’s a completely different neighborhood from Cheongdam-dong. We could imagine a change in your daily life as well.

I love taking walks, and this isn’t simply because I don’t have a driver’s license, so most of the time I find myself strolling around. Actually, Cheongdam-dong wasn’t the best place to take walks. It’s a neighborhood of high consumption so it’s crowded with stores, much less the tiresome hills. On the other hand, being close to Namsan, this neighborhood is green everywhere. I frequently go on a picnic to Namsan whereas I barely set foot in Cheongdam-dong now.

Do you spend more time at home compared to the past?

When it comes to choosing a house, the critical element I look for is natural light. The house I lived in Cheongdam-dong was in a dense neighborhood where majority of the buildings were blocking each other from sunlight. The house was always dark and that was probably why I thought of a house merely as a place to sleep. Most of the time I was out meeting people anyway. Now that this house lets in good amount of sun, I tend to have friends over.

Your studio and home coexists in the same place. What is your typical day like in such integrated space?

Some prefer to separate the workplace and home but as for me, I like to put the two together. Besides, I enjoy working. I like to keep my hands busy all the time and I don’t make strict lines between work and rest. When there’s work to do, I engage myself with it full time and only find time to relax for a bit when there’s less work.

 

We just realized that you don’t have that many home appliances in this house.

Oddly so, machines break easily.(laugh) It seems that I often break things whenever I get my hands on them, so these are like cursed hands when it comes to machines. And reading the instructions is just too much for me. The letters bounce off as soon as my eyes catch sight of them. The coffee grinding machine and the stereo is currently out of order.

What kind of a lifestyle do you pursue?

I wish to keep a good relationship with the people I love for as long as I can. Things could get bad with friends, and it could be either one’s fault or a certain situation may cause it so. I once went through such tough situation which gave me a hard time for a while so after that I try to keep it smooth with everyone. In the past I used to boldly talk things out with the people that upset me but now I just let it be. Because a lot of the cases get solved gradually as time goes by.

RECOMMENDED PLACE

Namsan Park

231 Samildaero, Jung-gu, Seoul
3 4 Chungmuro
02-3783-5900

“It’s one of the few parks in Seoul. The Namsan Park has a great landscape which makes your casual walks all the more pleasant.”

The Namsan Park surrounds Namsan, sitting in both areas of Jung-gu and Yongsan-gu. With the gross area of 1,029,300㎡, it is the largest of its kind and the most representative one in Seoul, providing a great place for some relaxation with the N Seoul Tower that offers the best night view of the city, the National Theater of Korea, the Namsan Library and the Ahn Jung-geun Memorial Hall within its boundaries. Along with the abundant number of pine trees, acacia trees and maple trees, it is home to 191 types of plantation and makes April the best season for tourists to enjoy the magnificent blooming of flowers throughout the area. The park is sectioned into 4 different districts. There’s the Jangchung District (also goes by the name Jangchungdan Park), the Yejang District which includes the Namsan Hanok Village, the Hoehyeon District including the Namsan Palgakjeong (rest area), and the Hannam District which opened to public in 1997. Dylan Ryu recommends walking the trail from the Hannam District along towards the Jangchungdan Park.